After years of controversy followed by months of construction, the Alameda Theatre has returned to its place of prominence in the heart of the city. For many, it seemed this week might never come. But there were those who had a dream and saw it fulfilled in a dazzling opening Wednesday night.
The Alameda Theatre holds special memories for those who grew up in Alameda and enjoyed matinees and movie dates at the Art Deco theater on Central Avenue. Its gold and red decor spoke of an elegance of a bygone era, like stepping into another world for a few hours and sharing the adventures of cinematic heroes on the big screen.
Then, as often happens, the glitter faded and the theater fell into disarray after closing in 1979 and going through a series of incarnations as a roller rink, a disco and a gymnastic school. The City Council, by a split vote, approved the renovation project in 2005.
It did not come without a lot of bitter debate, which continues even as the theater opens. The six-story parking garage and the seven-screen cineplex that came with the project generated anger over what the impact would be on the city and the price tag for the three-part project — estimated at $30.5 million, which includes $8.8 million for restoration of the historic theater. The garage still hasn't won the hearts of everyone in the community, But city officials maintain that the theater's rebirth could not have happened without the garage, and local businesses long have pleaded for more parking space. The parking garage has the room for the expected theater crowds and the shoppers.
The theater also is expected to be a cornerstone in the city's downtown revitalization plans and a glittering showcase to attract out-of-town visitors as well as residents.
The work on the theater, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is breath-taking. The gilded details have been lovingly restored, walls repainted in the original color and carpet repaired — and replaced in parts — with carefully matched design. The vintage torchiers, glass panels and fixtures all give the theater that feeling of elegance and grandeur that many remember.
The opening was fun for those who could attend. Spotlights and a band playing out front entertained the spectators who did not have a ticket to the soldout event. Inside there was plenty of food, good music and high spirits. It was a fitting night for the city's "Welcome back" to Alameda Theatre. And proceeds from the black-tie benefit will help with more restoration work yet to be done.
On Saturday the rest of the folks in Alameda and the Bay Area will be able to see for themselves the magic of the restoration and enjoy movies on the big screen of the Historic Theater as well as the seven other cinemas in the complex.
It's been a long and sometimes bumpy ride. Another piece of Alameda's history has been preserved and Alamedans now have a major first-run theater once again on the Island. Check it out for yourself. Settle into the comfortable new seats, soak up the Art Deco surroundings, and enjoy the show.